ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s
Categorization of the Term “Bidʿa” and the
Distinction Between its Lexical and Legal Definitions
The vastness of the Arabic language has often been compared to the ocean. As the ocean is rich in its inhabitants of many colors and forms, so too are the words of this divine language that take on a multitude of colors and forms determined by their linguistic environment. Much of the words used within the context of the Islamic tradition have multiple meanings.
Words such as “sunna” for example, mean something specific within the context of the hadith sciences and something separate when used within the context of fiqh (jurisprudence) or uṣūl al-fiqh (legal methodology).
Furthermore, the same words such as sunna, bidʿa, fiqh, and of course countless other words have separate meanings when used more generally outside of the context of the Islamic sciences.
Thus understanding definitions properly is essential to a sound understanding of various concepts within the sacred sciences. This is why many texts in the various Islamic sciences begin by providing a lexical meaning of a term, as commonly used within the Arabic language, before continuing to define a term in the context of the field in which it is used.
Some of the confusion in the modern period regarding the term “bidʿa,” has been in great part due to a lack of understanding this foundational principle.
The word bidʿa by itself does not have a negative connotation unless used in the context of Islamic law (i.e. the sharʿī definition) where it would specifically be referring to a bidʿa which is forbidden. It is only when equipped with this understanding that we are able to comprehend the pious caliph ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s (RA) praise of the gathering of Muslims for twenty units of tarawīḥ as being a “noble bidʿa,” the Qur’an’s reference to this term when discussing prophecy, and many other similar references to the term within their proper context.
While the study of bidʿa is a lengthy one, on which many treatises have been composed, this short study will briefly focus on the definition of this word from a lexical and legal perspective as well as examine the great scholar ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s seminal classification of bidʿa into the five categories which have generally been accepted by the majority of scholars of the Islamic tradition.
The Linguistic Definition of Bidʿa (al-bidʿa lughatan)
The active form of this word when used as a verb such as “one who does bidʿa (man badaʿa)” means one who invents or does something new which was not done previously. This word is used based on its more common lexical meaning in the Qur’ān in the following verses:
“The Originator (Badīʿ) of the heavens and the earth, when He decrees a matter, He says to it: ‘Be and it is,’ [al-Baqara: 117].”
The word Badīʿ here, which is also one of the names of God, is used to indicate that he creates the heavens and the earth before any of them ever existed.
“Say: ‘I am not an innovation among the messengers, nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I follow but that which is revealed to me by inspiration, I am but a warner open and clear,’ [al-Aḥqāf: 9].”
What is meant here is that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) was not the first to come with a message from God to humanity but rather he is a Messenger among a long line of previous messengers.
It can also be said in Arabic “ibtadaʾa fulān bidʿa” which is literally translated as “a person has begun a bidʿa.” The meaning of this phrase is that a person has started a new way or trend of doing something which had never been done in this way before.
The word “badīʿ” is also used as a form of praise when describing the uniqueness and greatness of an entity. It means that a matter or object is so extra-ordinary in its excellence that it has no comparable equal during its time. It is also often implied that nothing similar to it in quality has existed before.
ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s
Categorization of the Term “Bidʿa”
Many of the major Muslim scholars have divided “bidʿa” into categories based on its lexical meaning in the Arabic language.
The following is ʿIzz al-Dīn b. ʿAbd al-Salām’s classification of bidʿa into five categories:
1) Wājib (Obligatory bidʿa): This includes the study of grammar that enables a proper understanding of the words of God, the compilation of the Qur’an into a single volume by Abū Bakr (RA), the development of Islamic sciences such as the collection and classification of hadiths, and contesting unsound theological arguments about the nature of God through logical reasoning (i.e. kalām).
2) Mandūb (Recommended bidʿa): Such as the building of schools and facilities of learning, or the publication of books.
3) Mubāḥ (Permissible bidʿa) : This includes expanding the types of food one consumes or the style of clothing one wears.
4) Makrūh (Reprehensible bidʿa): This includes extending one’s fasts beyond the regular time of breaking fasts and washing one’s limbs more than the prescribed three times during ritual ablutions.
5) Al-Muḥarrama (Forbidden bidʿa): An example of this would be to pray the noon prayer before its time has arrived or following the theological views of the libertarians (qadariyya) or the anthropomorphists (al-mujassama).
Thus, the usage of the word “bidʿa” for what is not impermissible would be an example of the usage of this word within its lexical context. An example of this is ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb’s (RA) saying regarding the gathering of the people to pray twenty raka’as of tarawīḥ during Ramaḍān, “What a noble bidʿa!”
This is because this new practice did not contradict what the Messenger of God (PBUH) used to practice but rather reinforced what he was already in agreement with. The Messenger of God (PBUH) used to pray tarawīḥ with the Muslims many nights and sometimes leave it out of fear of its becoming obligatory upon them. With the passing of the Prophet (PBUH) this was no longer a concern.
Imām al-Shāfiʿī said:
“A new matter that contradicts the Book, the Sunna, Consensus (ijmāʿ) of the scholars, or the sayings of the early generations (athar) is a misleading innovation (bidʿa ḍālla). And whatever is invented that is good and does not contradict any of these then it is a praiseworthy innovation (al-bidʿa al-maḥmūda).
The Definition of Bidʿa Within the context of Islamic law (al-bidʿa sharʿan)
When used within the context of Islamic law, it is the fifth category of bidʿa that is referenced.
The following is the definition of bidʿa from the perspective of Islamic law:
“An innovation in the religion that contradicts Islamic law and in it, is intended an exaggeration in worship.”
This is the definition used by those who limit the legal definition of bidʿa solely to matters related to worship. Those who include general actions under the legal definition of bidʿa define it as follows:
“A new practice of religion that contradicts Islamic law and through its practice is intended what is intended with the practice of the Islamic law (shariʿā).”
The Prophet said (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم): “Who invents in our affairs something we are not on has rejected.”
He g also said, “…the best speech is the Book of God, and the best guidance is path of Muḥammad, and the worst of affairs are the new ones, and every innovation is a misguidance.”
It is based on this understanding, that the word bidʿa has often been used in opposition to sunna. Hence, it is said that an individual is “on the sunna (ʿalā al-sunna)” to mean that they are doing that which is in harmony with the Prophetic teachings while it is said a person is “on bidʿa (ʿalā al-bidʿa)” if their religious practice is done in a manner that contradicts the Prophetic teachings.
The Key Phrase in the Legal Definition of Bidʿa is “Contradicts Islamic Law”
The key phrase in the legal definition of forbidden bidʿa is that the practice contradicts the Islamic law (sharīʿa). Performing prophetically prescribed acts of worship like prayer, fasting, variations in supplications, remembrance (dhikr) etc. at times which the Prophet( صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) did not specifically perform or for example reading supplications (duas) that were not specifically recited by the Prophet are not categorized by scholars as forbidden bidʿa for two important reasons.
First, they are not contradictory to Islamic law. Second, and even more importantly, we have several examples of the Companions of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) initiating their own habits of worship and supplications without the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) prior recommendation and the same evidence indicates his approval upon later learning of this.
The hadith collections are abundant with example of this, such as Bilāl al-Ḥabashī’s (RA) keeping a habit of praying after making ablutions, Khubayb’s (RA) praying two raka’as before execution, the famous Companion who replied to the Prophet’s supplication in the prayer ‘samiʿa Allāhu liman ḥamida’ with his own words ‘Rabbāna laka al-ḥamd,’ or the Companion who used to recite sūrat al-ikhlāṣ in each unit of prayer due to his love for it.
All of these were individual acts of worship that are not contradictory to Islamic law, that were personally initiated by the Companions out of their eagerness to do good works, and were later approved of by the Messenger of God (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) when he learned of these practices. This in turn indicates the permissibility of doing so. Since the examples of these are many and have been outlined in detail in other treatises on the topic of bidʿa, this point will not be delved into further and is only touched upon briefly here as a reminder to the reader.
Making Forbidden What God has Made Permissible
Finally, the word bidʿa as used within the context of Islamic law does not only refer to actual additions to religious practices but it can also denote abstention from what is required or permissible. For example, during the lifetime of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) one of the Companions vowed to make forbidden for himself sleep at night, another vowed to make forbidden for himself eating during the day, and another made a vow to make forbidden upon himself approaching women.
When news of this reached the Prophet (صلى الله عليه و آله وسلم) he said to them: “By God, I am the most fearful of God and most mindful of Him. However, I fast and I break the fast, I pray and I rest, and I marry women. Whoever turns away from my example (sunnatī) is not from me.”
(Edited by ADHM)
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī vol.ii, Kitāb al-ṣulḥ:Bāb idhā aṣṭalaḥū ʿalā al-ṣulḥ, h. 2550.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī vol.ii, Kitāb al-Jumuʿa, Bāb takhfīf al-ṣalāh wa al-khuṭba, h. 867.
Sultan al-`ulama' al-`Izz ibn `Abd al-Salam al-Sulami
(b.578 AH- d.660 AH) (1182 CE-1261 CE)
More info: Here
“DRUMS OF BIDAH”